And Now for Something Completely Different…

Joe Strummer and The Clash didn’t need facial hair, and neither do you.

I feel like I’ve posted that video, or at least some variant of a “Clampdown” video before. Not sure.

2013 started great. I landed an amazing job at the worlds largest Non-Profit. I was riding my bike a fair amount, everyone was healthy on the home front, things were shaping up nicely for the first half of the year.

By now, you know how this story ends. And it fucking sucks.

2014 will be better, it has to be, because I can only imagine a few things happening that would make ’14 worse than ’13.

Here’s a short list of what I have to look forward to in 2014:

  • Cycling more. Getting more fit. Riding faster. If interested in helping to keep me motivated, become my friend on MyFitnessPal.com. Perhaps I will finally break 5,000 miles in a single year.
  • Seeing my kids continue to grow. and my son go off to Kindergarten.
  • Going to Morro Bay / Monterey at the end of this month.
  • Inching very close to finishing my M.S. at DePaul
  • Getting my custom steel bike build by Aaron Stinner with custom paint to honor my mother.
  • Planting an Orange Tree in my backyard, also for my mother.
  • Having Dan Smith tattoo a tribute to my mother on my forearm.
  • Visiting Montreal and Maine in September to visit a city I’ve always wanted to see, just to escape for a bit, and to see where my mom was born and ride my bike in Aroostook County.

That’s a lot of mom stuff.  Two things on that list are moments I really wish my mom was here for. Things I am already missing her for. My son starting kindergarten and my graduation with my M.S. (which will actually be Spring ’15). Both are going to be moments where I talk to my mom as though she’s here next to me, asking my son how his first day of school was or what my Masters means now for my job.

If the second half of 2013 was about taking care of her for me, 2014 will be about honoring her.

Have a happy and safe 2014 everyone. You can expect to see more blogging from me as the year goes on.

Jill Marie Thibodeau – 3/31/56 – eternity.

A year ago today on 12/12/12, the fine Trappist monks of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren decided to grace those of us without immediate access to their monastery in Flanders, Belgium with boxes of their much-heralded and extremely exclusive beer, Westvleteren XII. These boxes were comprised of six basic bottles and two one-time release chalice style glasses to drink the beer from. The monks’ intent was to raise funds (at over $80 per box) to refurbish their crumbling abbey. For one day, beer nerds (like myself), across the US had a single goal in mind; to acquire a box of this unicorn-beer. We were assured this would be a singular unique opportunity to acquire a beer that is typically not sold outside of a few kilometers from the abbey.

I expressed to my wife a strong, near-obsessive desire to acquire a box for myself. She along with a small cadre of my closest beer allies set out to surprise me by not getting me just one box, but two. The first I’d have access to immediately, and the second would be a Christmas surprise. My mother was an integral part of this scam, taking two extra hours beyond her lunch hour, at the drop of a hat, to ensure her oldest son had what ended up being the absolute best Christmas present I’ve received since I was a child. My mother probably bought that present too, whatever it was. My mother was not the kind of person that could truly afford to take any substantial amount of time off of work. Seeing 40 dollars missing from her paycheck would not be insignificant and in some way have an affect on how she budgeted for the rest of the month. An especially perilous proposition around Christmas time. However, my mother, without any coercion from my wife, stopped, dropped what she was doing, and ushered herself off to my house to watch my kids while my wife staked out the bottle shop. Her sole focus was to make her son happy. Work could wait. This was potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity and my mom wouldn’t be deterred from being a part of it. From making her son happy. You couldn’t keep her away.

This is emblematic of the kind of person my mother was. After my parents were divorced or separated or whatever (when you’re that age and someone leaves, your family is simply detonated. Most of the legal details are insignificant formalities) when I was 11 or 12, my mother’s life, which had up until then been about her family, was now about just her children. There was simply one less thing to focus on. Every single thing my mom did for the next 25 years, every moderate to major decision made, was either directly beneficial to my brother and I, or was deemed to have no negative impact on our lives. My mother lived for us. We were her everything. Whether it was the car to purchase, the apartment to live in, the hours/shifts to work, everything was about my brother and I. From keeping us in the same school district and around the same peers (even if it meant a Summer being essentially homeless and sleeping on my uncle’s floor) to always making sure we had anything we needed for school activities (sports for me, I think some art things for my brother) to just general involvement and legitimate interest in our lives, my mother was there, lock step, every single day of our lives. My mom had pretty much morphed/evolved into becoming a part of the fabric of our lives much more than being our mother and us being her sons, instead we became a trio. For better or worse, and despite the roles we had to play (and perhaps some might argue, the unhealthy nature of those roles) we persevered.

Her two sons eventually grew older and made lives of their own. We moved out, spent some time meandering in jobs and sometimes relationships that seemed to face a dead end prior to taking off. Adam would likely agree that our lives were a bit out of focus, but we always had something in us that knew we simply needed to decide how and when to begin moving ourselves in the right direction and things would simply fall into place. I like to think we both had some semblance of faith and trust in our own potential that was instilled in us by the love of our mother. Despite whatever challenges (and frankly, they were of our own making for the most part- the word lethargy leaps to mind) we faced, my mother was ceaselessly proud of something about her boys. I know because anyone I met that my mother knew, had some volume of knowledge about the going-ons of my brother and I. I am fairly confident a mother uneasy with the relationship she has with her children, or truly concerned about who or what they are (or can become) would be disinclined to so loosely convey anything and everything about us. No, my mom was proud. For better or worse. She had faith in us, believed in us, supported us.

By the time the late 2000s rolled around, Adam and I did begin to pull things together. Both of us graduated from good colleges (Adam actually graduated from a GREAT University)  I married my long-time girlfriend, my brother married his, I was able to get deeply entrenched in my chosen career field and go to graduate school. Adam was able to move 400 miles from home with his girlfriend and make it all work, get a good job and finish school. Our lives as adults had really begun to take shape. To put the icing on the cake, I had two incredible children; my mom’s first grandchildren.

If she was initially gifted with the tools of love and support that made her destined to be a successful mother, it was only to hone her skills until grandparenthood came calling.  This is what she was made to do. I’d never seen anything like it. When you’re in your mid-30s and the throes of adulthood’s seriousness, remembering the simple joys of playing with toys and board games with your mother is nearly impossible. Seeing her with my kids, especially my son, brought everything rushing back to me. I began to grow nostalgic for times I could barely recall. I’d get details wrong and my mom would correct me. I became open, willing, and enthusiastic in talking about our past. I felt a responsibility to my son to love and appreciate my mother and our past together even more. Some of this might be part and parcel with general maturity as well. Who can say?

I had always felt my mom suffered from depression after my dad left. She held up the best she could, but like the rest of us, certainly wasn’t perfect.  My feelings on that became exacerbated as my brother and I started to find our respective paths.  The birds had officially flown the coop and I think that instead of taking great joy in the successes (if I may) she had had with us, she instead become a bit more lonely. That is until five years ago when my wife and I announced that we were having our first child. I will never, ever forget the scene of her dropping by our house after work, and she had barely gotten through the front door when we told her and she shoved her keys and purse into my hands without even looking at me and embraced my wife. While they had always had a great relationship up until that point, that day they evolved into something even greater. My wife was going to deliver to her the greatest gift my mother could ever receive: a grandson.

From then on, my mom’s life picked up some steam. The job she’d gotten back in 2006 was treating her very well, even in difficult economic times. There was a new spring in her step. Tons of offers of advice and help, much of which had me rolling my eyes (as only a son can do to his mother) and an enthusiasm I had never seen in her before. All of this came to be in the form of an incredible grandmother that would do anything for her grandchildren, on a scale and fashion even grander than she had for her own children. I think at this stage in her life, she was prepared to go all-in for her grandchildren in a way that wasn’t possible when you’re actually trying to raise children. My kids, born in 2009 and in 2012, became everything to her.

I think that is the main reason her passing hurts so much. Just like when she was diagnosed in July, I am finding it much easier to cry in the shower for 20 minutes, or trying to bury tears amongst the sweat behind cycling sunglasses, than I am around my own family, co-workers, or friends (though over the last three weeks I’ve had plenty of moments of that as well). The raw pain I am feeling is less the selfish pain of wanting my mother back and more the pain of knowing that my children will have a difficult time remembering someone so special, let alone actually have her here for their activities, their prom, their graduations and marriages – their lives, and that my brother’s child will never know her. Flatly, they’ve all been robbed. I hurt for my brother and his wife who were 400 miles away during almost all of this arduous ordeal, and I hurt for my own wife, who created a bond with my mother so strong that they loved, cared, and respected each other in a relationship remarkably similar to the one I had with my mother. I hurt for my mother, who made it clear that she didn’t want cancer. She didn’t want to die. Of course I hurt for myself too, each crying session I had for the first week had somewhere embodied in it, several audible moments of me saying that I don’t want my mother to go. That I am not ready for her to leave. That I love her so much. So much.

We live in a cruel world that I have a difficult time accepting. One that would bestow terminal cancer upon such a loving person. Someone that truly had her priorities in life correct. My mom didn’t care about money, fame, stature, fancy stuff. All she wanted was to be able to drop by our house 3-4 times a week (or every day if we would permit it, but as much as I loved my mom, even that could be a bit much) to see her son, her son’s wife, and her grandkids, and to get the occasional call or FaceTime with her other son. She once had a conversation with my wife that I only learned about earlier this week where she lamented at the idea that I, her son, didn’t think she was happy. Truth is, she told my wife, she was very happy. She had everything she needed. Back in May, prior to my brother graduating from Berkeley and getting married (both events my mother was well enough to attend, thankfully), I had a talk with my brother about our mom, basically laying down my sword and deciding that although I had fought a long, hard battle to encourage my mom to get in shape, take better care of herself, quit drinking Pepsi etc, the truth is she is an adult in her late 50s and had to make some decisions like that on her own. Instead of disliking the things she wasn’t, embracing and loving her for the things she was. I think for all of us, something clicked at that exact moment that I can’t explain. My father was present and for some reason, that particular weekend they were extremely civil and even talked a bit. I felt like after 25 years of dealing with that, I finally had some closure on the chapter of my parents. So many good things were happening, for this to transpire reminds me that this world is unjust, and cruel. I am trying to abstain from bitterness, but it’s hard. Really hard. I try to find small bits of not what I would necessarily call “positives,” but more pain-mitigators. The last things my mom and I ever said to each other was “I love you.” Those were the last words, the last texts, and I would hazard a bet, the last thoughts. There was no acrimony, nothing left unsaid or undone. If anything, my mom had done everything she had set out to do. She raised two successful, happy boys that are doing well and will continue to. I tried to remind her of this every time the opportunity came about through this whole process.

Much like those trappist monks brewing beer and selling it to repair their monastery and support their lives as monks, my mom’s whole life was about doing whatever was necessary to pursue her passion. Namely, spending time with us. We were her everything. She was my everything. We leaned on each other for so much over 37 years. Sometimes me on her, and often as we got older, her on me. We were each other’s rocks.  I miss her so much it feels like anytime I am undistracted by the rest of life, I stand a good chance of feeling, quite literally, like a knife is being twisted into my heart. The stillness is enough to suffocate me. I’ve chosen to abstain from the details in regards to the how, why, etc as they’re totally irrelevant. My mom has passed on now. She had terminal cancer. It was one of her problems that I simply could not fix.

I’ve learned that before this I could never truly relate to someone that had lost a parent young. Now I can, and the only pain I can imagine worse than this is that of losing a child. It’s awful, and I’d give anything to have my mother back. What she meant to me, and to my family is indescribable. It’s a hole that will remain as long as we do.

Thanks for all the love and support through this very hard time. This post is somewhat rambling and not as coherent as I’d prefer but this isn’t about me, it’s about my mom and there are way too many thoughts, memories, and whatever else for me to process right now to make a perfect literary work. Instead, tonight on 12/12/13 I am drinking one of my remaining bottles of Westvleteren XII in my mothers honor.  I love you, mom. Anything I am now, or will be in the future, is because of you. I hope you were as proud of the man I became as I am of the mother you were to me.

-David

New Stage / New Ideas

I’ll tell you a stage dive makes me feel more alive, than coded messages in slowed down songs…

It’s crazy how much this song still moves me emotionally.

On the hospital/ICU/cancer carousel, two weeks is an eternity. Much has transpired over the last 14 days or so, but let’s start with where we are at present…

My mom is now in a rehabilitation wing at a local hospital. Much closer to home than USC Keck was (35+ miles and up to two hours in traffic) and much quieter and more comfortable for her. She is expected to be there for at least 10 days, doing varying amounts of occupational and physical therapy. She’s contacted a relatively mild infection, but it’s being managed well. Her remaining kidney seems to be functioning well, as expected. Her health is relatively good all things considering. She finally seems to be in a place where we can see some light at the end of surgery-recovery tunnel. We’re talking about being at my son’s last soccer game of the season in five weeks (I’m the coach!) and hopefully being at our house for Halloween in just three weeks.

Today her Oncologist is visiting to talk about something potentially positive; a change in treatment. Previously it was thought that her cancer and the location of the disease in her chest made it a “manageable” situation as opposed to solvable. Well, since they’ve done the pathology on the kidney tumor and the lymph nodes they took out around it, they are now talking about chemotherapy.  More on this later. I am not comfortable getting too excited until we hear something substantiated by a physician with an official plan of attack.

So if you’re wondering how we got here, and to some extent, why I haven’t been blogging? Well, so I don’t have to revisit the terror of thinking we’re on the cusp of  “time to gather friends and family,” I’ll do this in bullet point form:

  • My mom’s condition and how she was feeling declined significantly two weeks ago today. She was in the grips of total lethargy and intense pain in her hip area near her remaining kidney.
  • She had a full-blown Code Blue on Tuesday night at the hospital.
  • She had to be revived, returned to ICU, and given several units of blood.
  • Her surgeon and the staff urology specialist told me repeatedly that they were “very concerned” over this and it might be additional cancer getting into her remaining kidney.
  • We waited all day Wednesday two weeks ago thinking the worst case scenario might be playing out (gathering friends and family, etc).
  • After that entire hellish day spent in the most terrifying of holding patterns, a chest x-ray, a kidney ultrasound, and a full-body CT scan, we learned that she had developed fluid pockets from the surgery in vascular-sensitive areas. The hip pain was also caused by this. It was all fixable.
  • At some point I made everyone leave the room and broke down pretty hard and asked my mom not to do this to us again. She was barely coherent so I feel ok about making this selfish request.
  • This was by far and away the hardest day for me since it all started.

 

How have I been dealing with all of this?  The usual: friends, family, alcohol. But really, it turns out my assistant soccer coach and a dad to a kid on my son’s team lives about a block away, is about my age, and loves and appreciates cycling as much as I do, and doesn’t have the local douchebaggery attitude that so often plagues cyclists, so I’ve been riding my bike more, again, thankfully.  I hit my T.I.T.S. (time in the saddle) goal two weeks in a row, and will do so again this week.

I will also blog more, really.

Second Verse, Same as the First.

Pretty much listening to this on repeat this morning…

My mother had her kidney removed last Tuesday. It was a massive procedure, both in scope and time as it took nine total hours to complete. I was at the hospital the entire day with her, from the 3am alarm to pick her up for the long drive to the USC Keck Medical Center through seeing her post-op at 7pm. Suffice it to say, this was one of the more exhausting things I’ve ever been through. The anesthesiologist joked with us that with my mother knocked out, it would be a much longer day for me than it was for her.  Luckily my cousin Kristen, who is around my age and I spent a load of time with as a kid, was there with me the entire time. The updates were infrequent, but positive, and when I finally saw the surgeon at 5:45pm, she looked as tired as I felt. The good news was though this was an extremely difficult and invasive procedure, they were able to remove all disease from the abdomen and kidney area, including tumor that had been protruding into arteries and veins, restricting blood flow to my mother’s heart and causing her crippling fatigue.  On top of feeling positive on the core issues the surgery was meant to address, there was one more very slight, small, cautiously optimistic piece of news: the tumor was more yellow than expected. Cautiously (very cautiously and conservatively) she mentioned that this could, could mean the cancer cells are more renal in variety than sarcoid, therefore different and more aggressive treatments are possible. Possible. I took this possibility to heart as something to grasp on to. Even reminding my self that it could be a possibility was enough for me to heave a big sigh of relief, order up some Thai delivery, and get ready to go see my mom.

This was hard. Probably the toughest moment for me in this entire journey. Seeing my mom hooked up to a dozen different IVs, breathing tubes, catheters, stuff in her neck, nurses rushing around her, beeps and whistles. My mom blissfully unaware, sleeping peacefully after having her mid-section ripped open and stuff that she’s had in her body since she was just weeks old in her own mother’s womb, removed permanently.  This was hard to see.

Then she opened her eyes.  What was hard, was now impossible to handle. I broke down in a way I hadn’t before and may not again.  When her eyes were closed I held hopes she wasn’t aware of all of the tubes and machinery whirling around her. Now her eyes are open and she can see me. She can undoubtedly hear me. Now she appears vulnerable in a way I’ve never seen my parents. Things are happening to her not while she’s asleep and unaware, but when she’s awake and has to submit to it. I kissed her forehead over and over and stroked her hair and told her I loved her. She was so doped up on medicine and sedated she wasn’t likely to remember any of it, but that’s not the kind of thing you’re considering in the moment. Then we had to go. Nurse shift change probably couldn’t have come at a better time.

Fast-forward to the weekend. My mom is feeling much better, had some energy, and is in regular recovery with just an IV and oxygen. She’s actually scheduled to come home today, but we all feel it might be a bit early so we are checking with the doctors and nurses to see if this an issue of insurance wanting her to go, or of this being the best thing for her medically speaking. I can see that argument shaping up to be something along the lines of recovery happening best in a place of comfort. At home, familiar surroundings, family close by, etc. However, this was a major surgery. If she needs more time to recover from pain and discomfort, I’d like her to be close to the team that’s been working with her, not 35 miles away in Orange County where we all live.

I’ll try to write more frequently, if anyone is still reading. I promise.

Still here.

Hey, I’m still here. Just have a lot to process right now. I’ll be back with more on my mom and how I’m dealing with it all shortly. It’s just a little tough right now.

On a different note, went for a group ride tonight hosted by A Road Bike 4U in Irvine. I opted for the slower group as it’s been about 10 days since I maxed out my heart rate and really hammered. While the group was slated for 15-17, it quickly jumped up considerably. It was fine; I kept up with everything and even had a few moments of glory, but I don’t really get into rides like this. I don’t need to swing my stick at the fact I can hammer on tempo rides or despite my size can blast on lower % gradients. It just felt like a disjointed ride with guys that should have been in the fast group. I was looking to pep up my BPMs after some time off, and I did that, but some of that was at the expense of a lot of riders tailed off the back. I don’t really dig that.

 

What I really need is more of this in my cycling life:

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

I’ve been quite the busy biz traveler lately, spending a few days in both Washington DC and San Francisco in the last couple of weeks. Even now as I type this I am on a train to San Diego for a one-day conference.

 

I took my mom for her needle biopsy last week just prior to leaving for San Francisco, and today we are supposed to get the results around 2:45pm. i am hoping for the best, but I won’t know what’s going on for sure until I return this evening.

 

Aside from that, another thing that would be normally discussed on this blog is cycling. I had a great 50 miler yesterday with two gents I met on Instagram. It was one of their birthdays so we had a good tempo ride, averaging about 17.8mph. Fun stuff.

 

More soon, I promise!

When it Rains, it Pours / When it Pains, it Roars

There is a fine line between total bullshit and hope. We started this week deep into the unknown aside from one basic fact: my mother has kidney cancer and it’s spread to her lungs. I felt as though we were at the tip of the bullshit/hope fulcrum with no idea which way we’d tip.

It turns out we’ve tipped a little more towards hope.

We saw the kidney-specific doctor on Tuesday and learned that yes, my mom has massive tumors disrupting her kidney’s work. We also found out that my mom does have related lesions in her lungs. The cancer has not spread to any other organs, which at this point is a positive. The most startling part of this entire matter is that my mom has had this going for at least five years. This was remarkable. The doctor ordered an immediate bone scan to check on the cancer’s progress in that area. We had that yesterday and it came back negative. My mom also went to her GP to get some help with her breathing and fatigue. Two shots and three meds scripts later, she’s feeling much better in that regard too. It’s returned a slight sense of normalcy. To top it off, we found out that the cancer has not spread to her bones, either. All of this adds some promise to the situation.

I’ve needed that normalcy, real or imagined, for a few reasons. First, I am writing you from Washington DC attending the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference for my job. I needed to leave for this trip with some semblance of “piece of mind” in regards to my mother.

Second, I had to lay one of my dogs to rest yesterday. Varla was a 12 year old mix of an Australian Cattle Dog and what we felt pretty sure was German Shepherd. She was 38 pounds of raw energy, bouncing around like a bolt of lightning, barking at any dog that passed by, any person that came to the door, and any critter that invaded our space. We had her since 2002 and she just recently developed cancer, Osteosarcoma, in one of her legs. It was a tough 48 hours between finding out and having to put her to rest.

 

I actually had quite a bit to say about Varla. It was striking to myself personally just how emotional I got yesterday during the process. Right now, I feel a bit paralyzed about it and can’t articulate today what I was feeling yesterday. That might be because of this trip, and if that’s the case, then perhaps I timed it correctly. Three years ago I had to put down my dog Logan (long-time readers of the original version of this blog may remember that) and that was painful on a level I cannot describe. This was not as painful, but it sat with me differently. Despite Varla’s advanced age, despite my having a bad feeling about the possibilities, it hit me in a different way. I think my own age and maturity and how mortality affects me and thinking about my children and stuff, it just adds up differently.

 

Any event, this post took longer to get up than I wanted, so it feels a bit summary in nature. Tomorrow night perhaps I’ll actually write about work. That would be a welcome change. Off to the bar around the corner for a beer.

I’m Doing Most of my Crying in the Shower or on my Bike

I work at large Non-Profit organization, and as such we have a board of directors. Recently I had to do a presentation for them on some of our strategic planning/vision work to unfold over the next decade. As an ice breaker, our CEO handed out random pennies to each person in the room, about 40 people all told, and asked us to look at the year, reflect on it, and talk about something that happened in that year that relates to the work our agency does.

 

My penny read 1987, which is the year my Dad left my Mom and the process of divorcing began. I am not sure the relevance of that in particular to the work I do now, but I did talk about about a how stay-at-home mom was now unexpectedly single and charged with having to scramble to find work to support her two kids. It was every bit as hard as you would expect in an expensive place to live like Orange County. There was child support and alimony, but my mom, for the first time in her life, faced the scary proposition of hauling herself, armed with a high school diploma and zero work experience, from job to job until she found her place. She did that. She kept doing it. My brother and I were able to get all the way through school in the same district, graduating with most of the kids we’d started with in kindergarten. We kept the same friends, were able to play sports, and while we were never rich and never handed much, we had everything we need. Especially the tools to be successful. For myself I was the first in my family to finish college and am chipping away at my M.S.  My brother graduated from one of the best universities in the world, University of California at Berkeley, and soon will be headed to graduate school. By any measure, my mother has succeeded in what I can safely say was her primary focus and most important job; making sure my brother and I had everything we needed.

 

My mom has cancer. Over the last several weeks her health has been on the decline and we weren’t sure why. Finally she ended up having a series of ultrasounds, scans, etc. She has aggressive kidney cancer, which has now spread to her lungs. She was just diagnosed officially on Friday, but we’ve known the score for about a week and a half now. It’s been hard.

 

Nothing is for certain in terms of treatment (aside from the fact her kidney has to come out straight away). We don’t know a forecast, there are a lot of questions that will be answered this week. We do know however that my mom is a fighter. No one’s perfect but I love my mom for all the things she is, and not the things she’s isn’t. My task now is to be strong. Be the pillar of this family and remain calm and focused to help her through this. My brother is still 400+ miles away and I am sure not being here right now is very, very hard for him.

 

So far I’ve spent all my time crying either in the shower, or on the bike. I guess I’m using the running water or the sweat as a mask. Scenes of my childhood are constantly running through my mind and my vulnerabilities are accentuated that much more. I’m an emotional guy to begin with, full of romantic notions, so its hard to imagine not proposing wild scenarios to my mom where we run off to somewhere she’s always wanted to go for a weekend, just because we can, because we should, and because we have to.

 

My subsequent blog posts will be about this roller coaster. I need to both ride it out and write it out to make everything work for me, this is where and how I’ll find the strength to do this.